CAPE TOWN – Injuries... there’s probably no other South African Super Rugby team that knows that curse as well as the Stormers, but this time there’s at least some good news that comes with some very bad news for the Cape franchise.
The good news is that the Du Plessis cousins are set to return after long injury layoffs – with Dan available for the match against the Blues at Newlands next week, while Jean-Luc has also been taking part in full training and is expected to be available in the next few weeks.
Dan was ruled out of the remainder of the Stormers’ tour to New Zealand with a shoulder injury in April last year.
He avoided surgery, but following his return, his playing time was cut short again when he dislocated his shoulder playing for Western Province in the SuperSport Rugby Challenge in June.
Jean-Luc was ruled out after just one Super Rugby game last year with a groin complaint and was initially expected to be out for four to six weeks.
But the initial prognosis later grew into fears that the flyhalf may never play again.
However, after undergoing an operation in the United States in December, he is expected to make his return soon.
And his return will certainly be a boost for the Stormers, who went from being rich in flyhalf stocks early last year to crisis mode at No 10 in only one season.
In 2017, Robbie Fleck had Jean-Luc du Plessis – at that time the first-choice flyhalf – Robert du Preez, Kurt Coleman and Brandon Thomson to choose from, with fresh-out-of-school Willemse also cooking in the Stormers’ healthy flyhalf pot.
But since then Du Plessis has been out injured, Du Preez has joined his father and brothers at the Sharks, Thomson is with Glasgow Warriors and Coleman the Southern Kings.
During the pre-season, the Stormers recruited Joshua Stander from the Bulls and George Whitehead (on loan) from Griquas in an attempt to nurse their serious lack of depth at flyhalf, and when Willemse suffered a haematoma to his quad against the Waratahs two weeks ago, Fleck opted to play Leyds at 10 in the exciting flyhalf’s absence.
So, it seems like the return of the Du Plessis relatives, Jean-Luc in particular, couldn’t have come at a better time.
But the bad news is really bad.
The Stormers will be without JD Schickerling and hooker Bongi Mbonambi for the greater part of the Super Rugby season.
Schickerling, who has produced massive performances for the Stormers in recent weeks and for Province during their Currie Cup-winning campaign last year, will undergo surgery on a torn pectoral muscle, which will keep him out of action for four months.
With Eben Etzebeth also on the road to recovery with a shoulder injury and Pieter-Steph du Toit having to pass his final tests to confirm whether he can play against the Highlanders on Friday (8.35am kickoff) – after taking a knock to the head against the Crusaders – Schickerling’s injury is a massive blow.
Especially if you look at how good he’s been.
Salmaan Moerat has joined the Stormers in New Zealand following Schickerling’s injury and celebrated his 20th birthday in Queenstown on Tuesday.
Chris van Zyl and Jan de Klerk are the other two second-row options in the touring squad.
In the front row, the news doesn’t get any better, as Springbok hooker Mbonambi will be off the field for three months after he had two operations as a result of appendicitis.
In his absence, Ramone Samuels has started for the Stormers, with Dean Muir on the bench.
And although Samuels’ work in open play has been impressive in recent weeks, the lineouts have been a problem, with a number of overthrown and misdirected lineout balls (from both him and Muir) having caused havoc on tour.
But, to be fair, the lineouts could also have been run better.
In the back row, flank Cobus Wiese, a standout in the game against the Crusaders, is in doubt due to a shoulder injury, while Kobus van Dyk is struggling with an ankle.
In the backline, Seabelo Senatla (groin) has, along with Wiese and Van Dyk, also been given until Wednesday to prove his fitness to run out in Dunedin.